Looking back on it now, I never truly appreciated the bliss that was college life. Sure, there was endless project deadlines, stacks of exams to get through and ever-increasing course fees, but things just seemed easier.
During my final year in college, a couple of friends and I decided to abandon a day of classes and venture “Up North” to explore the city of Belfast.
Now, I could lie and say we travelled up to broaden the mind, but the fact is we drove up, spent Friday evening/night wandering around pubs in the city and then peeled ourselves out of bed early on Saturday morning and got to exploring.
Here’s a handful of things to do in Belfast when you’re stuck for time and cash.
1 – First stop – Grab some brekkie in St. Georges Market (Fri – Sat)
No day of successful exploration has ever been fufilled on an empty stomach. Doubly so when there’s a hangover present. So, after stepping out of our hostel, our hunter-gatherer instincts kicked-in and we set off in search of some decent grub.
I’ll be honest, we completely stumbled upon St. Georges Market, but what an amazing fluke of a find it was.
The second you step foot inside the market you’ll feel your stomach give an approving rumble as the smells of fresh food hailing from every corner of the earth wafts over you from every direction.
There’s been a Friday market here since 1604 and every week over 240+ traders take to the markets stalls and flog everything from shark meat to fresh fruit.
On the Saturday we visited, the stalls were buckling under the weight of top-notch foods from local producers along with speciality foods from around the world.
I left with a toasted breakfast bap and the strongest cup of coffee I ever wrapped my fingers around.
Funds drained: £14
2 – Get things rolling with a Black Cab Tour
With a full belly and a slight case of the jitters from the coffee, we made our way back to our hostel where we were picked up by a black cab (we called the previous morning and made the arrangements).
We were collected by Tony, a stout gentleman in his late 60s, born and bred in the city and who spoke in a thick booming Belfast accent.
As we navigated through the busy city traffic Tony took us through the history of the area. A master storyteller, at times he had us buckled over laughing. Mostly, we sat back in silence. Staring out the window.
Gripped to a story about a city that was once dominated by violence.
Tony lived through the troubles. He saw the Belfast at its worst and its best, and spoke passionately about a city he loved.
The black cab tour took us past many of Belfast City’s murals, which are arguably the most well known politicly themed murals in Europe and depict the city’s dense history and culture.
An hour and a half that I’ll never forget.
Funds drained: £30 (between the 3 of us)
3 – Visit the Crumlin Road Gaol/Prison
After checking out the murals we were itching to dig into more of Belfast’s history and what better place to continue the journey than at the Crumlin Road Gaol.
Before our visit, we knew very little about it’s past apart from what we picked up on Google.
The building, which dates back to 1845, closed it’s doors as a working prison in 1996 and is now a popular tourist attraction (currenrly number 2 for things to do in Belfast on TripAdvisor).
We decided to take the guided tour of the prison which was led by a qualified tour guide who took us through the history of the gaol.
The story began at a time when women and children were held within it’s walls through to the political segregation of republican and loyalist prisoners and ultimately its closure.
Walking through the building you can’t help but feel a chill at times. It’s most notable when you’re standing at the tunnel that used to connect the Gaol to the Crumlin Road Courthouse.
It’s quite surreal walking the same route that thousands of prisoners took many years ago as they awaited to discover their fate.
Funds drained: £7.50 (a bargain)
4 – Grab a pint and soak up the buzz in the Cathedral Quarter
After finishing off in the Gaol, our hangovers had truly taken hold. After a quick Google, we decided to check out what all the fuss was about and grabbed a taxi out to the Cathedral Quarter.
The journey only took around ten minutes in traffic and it gave us a chance to kick back after a busy morning.
Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter is a cracking spot to grab a bite to eat or to chill with a few drinks.
We dodged the temptation to get the hair of the dog (hangover cure) and opted for a sandwich.
This part of the city boasts some of Belfast’s oldest and most beautiful buildings and streets, along with a wide variety of pubs and restaurants. Go for the impeccable architecture, stay for the delicious food and drink.
Keep an eye out for live events taking place around the time of your visit as many are free and always worth a visit.
Funds drained: £10
5 – Ramble around Belfast City Hall
While eating lunch and taking a break in the Cathedral Quarter, we flicked through some Belfast guides online and discovered we were less than a ten minute walk away from Belfast City Hall.
After finishing up, we started strolling and ended up arriving at our destination quicker than expected.
Belfast City Hall first opened its doors way back in 1906 and the construction of the building came about after Queen Victoria gave Belfast ‘City Status‘ in 1888.
The building, constructed beautifully from Portland stone, is an artictural marvel and one of the most significant buildings in the city’s history.
It’s worth stopping by just to gawk at the building itself. The grounds around the building are full of monuments and statues that detail the history of both Belfast and the building itself.
The best bit? There’s free public tours of city hall available from monday to saturday, led by an experienced guide.
Funds drained: £0
6 – Visit Belfast Castle
Our next stop was a toss up between the Titanic Belfast and Belfast Castle – the latter won. Mainly because we were low on cash. If you haven’t been to the Titanic Experience, it’s pricey – but well worth the visit (more info below).
Belfast Castle estate sits on the lower slopes of Cave Hill country park in north Belfast and is called home by a whole host of wildlife from long-eared owls, sparrowhawks and Belfast’s rarest plant, the town hall clockto.
After a busy day, we were content just wandering around the country park but you can also explore the visitor centre. There’s also a playground for the kids.
The first Belfast Castle was built by the Normans in the city centre in the late 12th century. A second castle, made out of stone and timber, was later constructed by Sir Arthur Chichester, Baron of Belfast, on the same site in 1611.
Unfortunately, the castle burned down almost 100 years later, leaving only street names, such as Castle Place, to mark its location.
Tip – Belfast Castle offers magnificent views of the city. Get the phone or camera charged and head on up. Admission is FREE.
Funds drained: £18 (Taxi fare – rough guess)
7 – Explore the city by bike or have a peddle and a pint
One of the best ways to truly experience and explore a city is by hopping on a bike. If you’re visiting Belfast, there’s lots of different bike tour operators that take you around the city and it’s many attractions.
There’s also places that’ll rent you out a bike without having to take a guided tour. Pick up a bike and explore the city on a whim. You’ll stumble across places you never even knew existed.
Something I came across while looking up Belfast bike tours was the Wee Toast Tour (above). You can have a peddle around the city and a pint in the process. What’s not to love?!
8 – Visit the Titanic Experience
No visit to Belfast is complete without a visit to the Titanic Experience, which opened in March 2012. You’ll find the monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the exact site where the former Harland & Wolff shipyard was based in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built.
The building itself is an architectural masterpiece and offers some top-class photo opportunities.
The Titanic Experience spans over nine magnificent galleries that draw together special effects, dark rides, full-scale reconstructions and interactive features that tell the story of the Titanic in great depth and detail.